Why Employers Need a Wakeup Call This Employee Appreciation Day

As published on Medium.com

Friday, March 4, is Employee Appreciation Day. And things look a lot different for employees in 2022 than they did just a year ago. Like it or not, COVID-19 has upended the modern workplace and increased employees’ expectations and willingness to walk away if those expectations aren’t met.

In fact, fewer than a third of employees say they feel engaged at work, while recent data suggests that just 17 percent of executives consider increasing employee engagement to be a top priority. This disconnect has led to what is now being called ‘The Great Resignation.’

There is a spotlight on the workplace this year, as COVID-19 restrictions ease, and employees look to management to see if their employers have learned the lessons they believe they should’ve after 2 years of uncertainty, remote work, and other restrictions.

Interestingly, engagement and turnover numbers continue to get worse despite widespread permanent and temporary pay increases in response to the pandemic and ongoing labor shortage. Which begs the question, “Is money really everything?”

The short answer is no.

In fact, when employees were asked what would increase their engagement on the job, manager recognition was the leading response. However, the old philosophy — “any employee recognition program is better than no employee recognition program” — is no longer effective or relevant.

The most common form of ‘employee appreciation’ has traditionally come in the form of years of service or other tenure-based recognition programs. The problem, however, is that these programs are predictable and have grown stale.

Eventually, expecting monthly or yearly rewards for staying on the job loses its luster, and employees need more. In fact, since most companies do incorporate some form of recognition — to the tune of $46 billion per year — it might come as a shock to many employers that just over half of employees even know there is a recognition program in place for them.

So, what does this mean?

Tenure-based programs are baked into the cake, and more creative tactics are required to meet the demands of today’s rapidly-changing labor market. But to identify what those tactics should be, it is important to identify not only what employees want, but also what employers need.

Over 80 percent of US businesses describe employee turnover as a ‘costly problem.’ And this is no wonder, considering 58 percent of employees surveyed said they would take another job today at a similar company if they were offered the same benefits and pay. In a world where it can cost up to twice an employee’s salary to replace them, eventually, over half of the workforce being willing to leave at the drop of a hat is unsustainable.

Thankfully, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

When a workforce is ‘highly engaged and enabled,’ recent data suggests that a company can slash its turnover rate by more than half. In other words, show your employees the appreciation they are looking for and in so doing boost productivity and alleviate costly turnover.

According to Bain & Company, a satisfied employee is 40 percent more productive than an unsatisfied one, and an engaged employee is 44 percent more productive than a satisfied one. So, if all most employees require is a shift in recognition tactics, what do employers have to lose?

From peer-to-peer recognition to training benchmarks to measured productivity awards and even simply recognizing an employee’s birthday, the possibilities really are endless when it comes to shaking things up and bolstering your recognition mix beyond the bare minimum. And the great news is that these tactics are unique to every company and can be tailored to fit any workforce.

The disconnect between increasing disengagement and decreasing investment in modern recognition solutions is exacerbating the labor crisis and costing US employers billions. But there is a win-win ripe for the taking, if employees communicate what they need and employers listen. The only question becomes, will businesses listen and get out in front of the current crisis or try and play catch up when it could already be too late?

At Quality Incentive Company, Rob is responsible for leading the company’s business development efforts in both the employee recognition and sales/channel arenas. He has more than 10 years of experience in the recognition and incentive industry, having served as president and CEO of Atlanta-based Loyaltyworks before joining QIC in 2011.